"If it hadn't been for Youth Music, I probably wouldn't still be here"
Rio had a tough childhood, dealing with family issues and gang violence. He's now an aspiring musician, producer and rapper, and credits Youth Music with helping him to change his life.
Growing up in difficult circumstances
Rio was brought up in London in a single parent family with two siblings. His mother suffers from depression and has been hospitalised on several occasions. Throughout his childhood, his family continually moved house and he’s had to deal with evictions and living in homes at times without running water and electricity.
He's never had any male role models or felt surrounded by anyone with a strong direction or purpose in life.
“No one around me ever achieved anything”, he says.
Falling in with gangs
He has always had an appetite for learning and did well in his earlier schooldays, winning a scholarship to a private school. However, at the age of 12 he was permanently excluded after an altercation with another pupil.
By the age of fifteen, he was hanging around with a gang, smoking cannabis and drinking. The gang was involved in petty crime and Rio was heading in the same direction. His environment became one of recreational drugs, violence and petty crime. Several of his friends ended up in prison for serious crimes including armed robbery and some have died either through violence or drug use.
Lucky to be alive
A stark turning point came for Rio at 16, when inter-gang violence left him facing a gang of up to 40 other youths on his estate, one of whom beat Rio up so badly, his face is permanently marked. “I thought I was going to die and just ran for it”, he says. He managed to escape and realised that he was lucky to still be alive.
He left home in London to live with his aunt and uncle in Eastbourne to get away from the violence in London. However, his mother gave him an ultimatum to return home which he felt obliged to do.
Getting help to turn things around
As the eldest son, Rio has often had to help support the family. He visited an employment and training advice organisation, Connexions, where he was directed to a Youth Music funded course in music production provided by a local organisation.
Just three hours tuition a week quickly helped Rio to discover his potential for music production and for writing and performing his own songs.
“The course turned things around for me and for once, I felt there was something positive in my life”.
He quickly achieved his Bronze and Silver Arts Awards and before long he was taken on as a teaching assistant by Street Vibes, a Youth Music funded project.
Music has been life-changing
Things have been looking up for Rio. “Music has changed my life”, he says. “It’s been a way of expressing my feelings and working through my anger”.
He has developed his music production techniques and continues to make music and perform, describing his plethora of skills as being the metaphorical equivalent of a 'one man band'.
Although he failed his GCSEs, Rio is now on course to begin a degree in business and finance in autumn 2012. He plans to put the qualification to use in the career he wants in the music industry.
“If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to work with you guys in a Youth Music project”, he says, “I probably wouldn’t still be here”.
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* Photos © Travel Weekly Northern Ball